2012 Infiniti FX50S

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It isn’t what you’d call pretty, but Infiniti’s FX line does turn heads.
It isn’t what you’d call pretty, but Infiniti’s FX line does turn heads.

These days you can walk into a showroom and buy street-legal, from-the-factory cars with 500, 600, 700 and even (if you’re filthy rich enough) 1,200 horsepower.

So a mere 390 under the hood doesn’t sound like so much any more. But it really is quite a lot—especially if it’s metered out by a quick throttle pedal and fed through a transmission programmed to respond not soon but right now.

And if the chassis is properly stiff and the suspension is crisp and the steering and brakes are tuned for immediate and linear action—as indeed they are—it will feel like every single one of those 390 warhorses is eagerly clawing at the pavement on your behalf.

This is exactly what Infiniti has done with its FX50S, a car that makes the phrase “high-performance AWD sport-utility vehicle” seem not at all like an oxymoron but rather like a very good idea. If you sort of overlook the “utility” part, that is. There isn’t much vertical room under that sloping rear deck.

What a machine! The driver can even custom-fit the seat snugly around hips and back, the better to stay in place while enjoying side-load g forces.

Get too familiar with a Cayenne Turbo and it’ll scare you half to death. The FX50S seems a lot friendlier, like a Labrador retriever with a Frisbee in its mouth; big and strong, yes, but it’s larking about. It just wants to play. But the FX50 has a dark side, too. Pop the 7-speed transmission into “Sport.” Now boot the accelerator while you tap away at the shifter paddles on the steering wheel, and . . . Omigawd. The Labrador retriever has spit out the Frisbee and turned into a Rottweiler—with rabies! The 5-liter V-8 roars through those fist-sized exhausts at the back and the FX leaps ahead, even on monstrous 21-inch wheels. The leaping is quite strong at low revs, and at high revs it’s simply ferocious. Bend this throttle-happy demon into a curve and the news is still good. Despite its weight and tall stance, the FX stays upright and the chassis never gives up. A track session might find some handling deficiencies, I don’t know; certainly on the street, there aren’t any. The stiffer suspension setting isn’t even necessary.

I trust no one will buy an all-wheel-drive FX50 (or its saner sibling, the 6-cylinder FX35 with a mere 300 horsepower) as an off-roader, but I do believe it would be a fantastic speed-sled in the snow. With proper tires, of course, and a ski rack.

There’s a price to pay for these shenanigans. Two prices, really. The first one hits you at the dealership: $66,545, with the S-package go-fast goodies loaded atop everything else on the sticker. That’s a lot of money, but this is one heck of a lot of vehicle. The same style, luxury and performance in a German crossover ute costs an entire earth more. In addition, the Infiniti is endowed with a truly deluxe cabin, plus comfort features galore and an array of chimes, bongs, whistles and disembodied voices that warn us when we stray out of our lane, when there’s bad weather nearby, when we’re having too much fun. Only the satnav is less than brilliant—but, to be fair, few GPS systems can cope with downtown Boston.

The second price of FX50S ownership hits at the pump: On the highway, where it’s a constant struggle to stay within a hall-Mary pass of the speed limit, this thing turns a gallon of high-test into smoke every 15 miles. It doesn’t have a carbon footprint so much as a carbon chasm.

So it’s a guilty pleasure. It must be said that the FX is not pretty, either. I suppose by some people’s lights these negatives are in reality positives, or else we’d all have an FX50S.